Attorney General v Scotcher: HL 19 May 2005

Following a trial, a juror wrote to the defendant’s mother to say that other jury members had not considered the case in a proper manner. He had been given written advice that he was not free to discuss a case with anyone. He appealed his conviction for contempt of court, saying that his intention had been to support the court process, and that Mirza had changed the applicable law.
Held: Section 8(1) did not infringe the defendant’s rights, and therefore article 3 did not come into play. ‘In reality Mr Starmer is complaining about the warnings to jurors, which were based on a misinterpretation of section 8(1). But the terms of those warnings could not affect either the interpretation of the statute or the appellant’s guilt, one way or the other. At most, they might have been relevant to mitigation. In fact, however, the warnings are irrelevant since, by writing the letter, the appellant showed that he was not restrained by being warned that he would be in contempt of court if he disclosed the jury’s deliberations to anyone. That being so, the warnings would not have stopped him from contacting the court authorities, or consulting a lawyer about the matter, if he had wanted to.’
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry considered the application of section 3 of the 1998 Act to section 8 of the 1981 Act, saying: ‘As I have already explained, it was not disputed that the appellant could, if appropriate, invoke sections 3 and 4 of the 1998 Act. In my view, however, neither section avails him in this case. The appellant’s rights under article 10(1) were, of course, engaged but in terms of article 10(2) the right to freedom of expression can be subject to a restriction which is prescribed by law and is necessary in a democratic society ‘for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence.’ In Gregory v United Kingdom (1997) 25 EHRR 577, 594, para 44, the European Court acknowledged that the rule governing the secrecy of jury deliberations is a crucial and legitimate feature of English trial law. Therefore, in so far as section 8(1) serves to reinforce that rule by making it an offence for a juror to disclose the information which he receives in confidence from his fellow jurors, the objective is sufficiently important to justify limiting the juror’s freedom of expression in this way. The provision is rationally connected to its aim and the means adopted are no more than is reasonably necessary, since the restriction does not apply to bona fide disclosures to the court authorities. The measure is accordingly ‘reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” and ‘Section 3 of the 1998 Act comes into play only where it is needed in order to make a legislative provision compatible with a Convention right. As Mr Starmer accepts, however, when properly interpreted according to domestic canons of construction, section 8(1) is compatible with article 10 of the Convention. That being so, section 3 does not apply.’

Lord Steyn, Lord Hutton, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Baroness Hale of Richmond, Lord Carswell
[2005] 1WLR 1825, Times 20-May-2005, [2005] UKHL 36, [2005] 3 All ER 1
Bailii, House of Lords
Contempt of Court Act 1981 8(1), European Convention on Huma Rights 10
England and Wales
Appeal fromAttorney General v Scotcher Admn 16-May-2003
The defendant had acted as a juror. After the trial he wrote to the mother of the defendant and revealed aspects of the jury’s deliberations with which he felt unhappy.
Held: The action was a contempt of court. . .
CitedRegina v Connor and another; Regina v Mirza HL 22-Jan-2004
Extension of Inquiries into Jury Room Activities
The defendants sought an enquiry as to events in the jury rooms on their trials. They said that the secrecy of a jury’s deliberations did not fit the human right to a fair trial. In one case, it was said that jurors believed that the defendant’s use . .
CitedHM Attorney-General v Associated Newspapers Ltd and Others HL 4-Feb-1994
Following the acquittal of a prominent politician on a charge of conspiracy to murder, the New Statesman magazine published an article, based on an interview with one of the jurors, which gave an account of significant parts of the jury’s . .
CitedRegina v Smith, Regina v Mercieca HL 16-Feb-2005
A member of the jury wrote to the judge saying that other members were failing to discharge their duties properly. Smith took a tactical decision not to seek a retrial. The judge saw counsel in chambers, after which the jury were reminded of their . .
CitedThe Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission for an Order etc SCS 29-Aug-2000
The court drew attention to the difference between the situation where the court itself makes inquiries as to events in the jury retiring room with the aim of bringing the court in question into contempt and that where it makes inquiries with the . .
CitedPractice Direction (Crown court: Guidance to Jurors) CACD 23-Feb-2004
Where jurors had concerns about the behaviour of fellow jurors, they should bring these to the attention of the judge during the trial rather than after. Jurors should be told of this, but not in such a way as to encourage inappropriate criticism of . .
CitedGregory v The United Kingdom ECHR 25-Feb-1997
A judge’s direction to the jury to disregard any question of racial bias was sufficient to ensure a fair trial for the defendant. In discussing the protection of the secrecy of jury deliberations: ‘The court acknowledges that the rule governing the . .
CitedDe Freitas v The Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Lands and Housing and others PC 30-Jun-1998
(Antigua and Barbuda) The applicant was employed as a civil servant. He joined a demonstration alleging corruption in a minister. It was alleged he had infringed his duties as a civil servant, and he replied that the constitution allowed him to . .

Cited by:
CitedHM Attorney General v Seckerson and Times Newspapers Ltd Admn 13-May-2009
The first defendant had been foreman of a jury in a criminal trial. He was accused of disclosing details of the jury’s votes and their considerations with concerns about the expert witnesses to the second defendant. The parties disputed the extent . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contempt of Court, Criminal Practice, Human Rights

Updated: 05 January 2022; Ref: scu.225009